A Travellerspoint blog

March 2013

Cappadocia: Caves and Conversations

BY MURIEL

semi-overcast 14 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

The day was supposed to be rainy but dawned fairly clear and bright, albeit with a briskness to the air, common to Cappadocia. Upon checking out of our hotel, we realized a pleasant surprise as the two large, excellent meals provided by them commanded less than ten dollars a person. We were suspecting it would be a lot more as the tables had fancy cloths and real wine glasses, items we hadn’t yet seen at any of our Turkish dining experiences.

The town of Guzelyurt, population 2700, has a lot to offer in its own right for sight-hungry tourists: cave dwellings, a few old churches, and a beautiful vista. The cave abodes are a complex of tunnels and ancient cliff dwellings, homes hollowed out of the volcanic rock serving various communities over the centuries. Apparently, there are hundreds of such cities in Cappadocia, some accommodating as many as 30, 000 people at a time. Guzelyurt’s was small and acted as a warm up for our main site in Derinkuyu later in the day. We noted a cave church called Sivisli Kisili in the stone buildings dating to the 13th century, with Byzantine-style frescos of Christ still visible on the walls. Nearby was St Gregorios Church, now converted to a mosque, claiming to be from 385 AD. However, it looked much too new for that so we suspect a lot of it had been restored. Christian and Muslim artifacts coexist in this part of Turkey, testifying to the various layers of history that this region has seen. In driving through the Monastery Valley on the edge of town, we came across a cemetery, with tombstones from both the Christian and Muslim faiths; new graves were sandwiched among the very old ones with decayed gravestones. There was no one about save for the herder urging his three cows through to better pastures. The beautiful panorama displayed nearby Mount Hasan in all its glory, an idealized version of the sleeping volcanic mountain, replete with its cloak of snow and waiting patiently for the neighbouring fields to turn from brown to green.

(Very) old Guzelyurt below current Guzelyurt

(Very) old Guzelyurt below current Guzelyurt

We stopped by Nargolil, a lake promoted in the brochures as thermal due to its natural hot springs. We saw evidence of this by the big bill boards directing us to the two massive hotels promoting the lake’s restoration qualities. We advanced to see the crater lake and eagerly placed our hands in the water to see how bathtub-like it was. What a surprise to find it freezing cold! We’re not sure what has happened and whether those springs are now defunct but we’re wondering whether the writing is on the wall for those hotels considering their livelihood depends on the thermal capability.

The main stop of the day was the underground city of Derinkuyu. We were curious to understand what was meant by an ‘underground city’ as some that are so billed are actually above ground. We knew we were at the right place because we could see the tour buses and long row of vendors. As we parked and vacated our car, several older, heavyset, traditionally dressed Turkish women swarmed the car on all sides, each carrying a basket of small sewn cloth dolls and dangling them in front of us, shouting ‘One lire! One lire!’ It was quite the gauntlet but knowing I had absolutely no room in my bag, it was fairly easy to resist. They graciously accepted the tenth ‘no’ and retired to their perches waiting for the next vehicle to arrive. We quickly made a beeline for the ticket office and were shown to stairs descending into the stone ground.

Derinkuyu the underground city - mission school

Derinkuyu the underground city - mission school

Once inside the cool caves, we began to relax again, and took in our surroundings with some wonder. The city was completely underground, and in reading the short brochure, claimed it descended twelve stories (85 metres down into the earth), of which visitors could explore the first eight. The underground areas had been furnished with low electric lights so that we could navigate the catacombs safely. One of the security guides began to explain the various rooms, pointing out stables, a winery, kitchen areas, etc. He mentioned how the first three floors down were created by the Hittites in the 8th century BC; more floors were then added by the Romans and, later still, by the Byzantine Christians in the 12th century AD, bringing the total underground levels to twelve. Since we have learned to be wary of those offering their knowledge at such sites, I made sure I checked the guard’s identification badge to ensure he was official staff. He was; we were impressed that commentary came with this tourist site as usually that is not included in Turkey’s attractions. However, when he finished explaining the first floor, he then broached the delicate subject of offering the full tour as an ‘unofficial guide’ (since he wasn’t supposed to be doing this while he was a security guard). The price would be 50 lire ($30). Feeling chagrined once again, we let him know we would attempt to figure it out on our own.
As we travelled farther and farther down the steep, low, narrow stairways, descending deeper into the hewn out rock, and roamed about the labyrinth of chambers, it was impossible not to cast one’s mind back to those days centuries ago, when people may have used them to hide from raiders and persecutors. Some above ground homes were connected to the underground caves so habitants could quickly flee below when invaders came. Having worshipped as Christians all our lives and knowing early Christians had lived and worshipped here too made me feel a kinship with them. We marvelled at the organization, compromise and collaboration that must have been achieved in those years, in order for the community to run smoothly. Other questions came to mind. How did they chip away so much rock and remove it to the surface? How did they light up all the underground areas sufficiently? How did so many people move about in the narrow passages? Where did they all go to the bathroom? And why was there a spot for graves – was that practical?

Derinkuyu the underground city - well

Derinkuyu the underground city - well

We were in awe of some of the construction. There were long, wide ventilation shafts and evidence of wells that served the whole community. We were able to visit many family compartments, a large open meeting place, a barrel-vaulted school room, a church (carved so that it was in the shape of a cross, with the usual transept), the grave area, and a baptismal font. The ticket office warns people against going underground if they have heart or asthma conditions but they said nothing of claustrophobia! Fortunately, none of us suffered from any of those so we spent about an hour touring the multiple levels (60 m). I had engrossed myself so thoroughly in the darkened maze of rooms that when returned to the harsh sunlight and found ourselves once again amid the colorful street stalls, it took a moment to get oriented. Making our way past the security guards playing marbles in the dust with the local youth (I think it was for money), we once again ran the gauntlet and drove off.
As we approached Goreme, we were treated to great views of the ‘fairy chimneys,’ conical projections formed from volcanic tufa (soft, porous limestone) that have been eroded by wind and water over the years. They can come in different shapes, such as mushrooms, but the forest of cones we see in Goreme looks other-worldly. I would say it was somewhat Disneyesque but since Cappadocia came first, perhaps Disneyland is Cappadochian instead. We hope to see more of these amazing structures tomorrow.

Fairy chimneys in Goreme

Fairy chimneys in Goreme

Our evening was punctuated by three interesting conversations; the first, with the young man at the hotel reception, who had left university in the fourth year of his English education degree because he missed this part of Turkey and his friends; the second, with a computer engineer/music teacher/musician/professor who had lived in San Francisco for a number of years and who had played in Victoria at St Ann’s Academy on one occasion; and the third, with the restaurant owner who learned seven languages through tourism and self study. From the ex-student, we learned of mandatory military service and the effect it had on one of his friends serving in eastern Turkey; from the musician, we heard his opinion of the effect of Westernization and Turkey’s subsequent Islamic backlash with negative results on culture and independence. The third man charmed us with his very good English, gave us a lesson on crop growing Cappadocia-style (with little water), and made the inevitable offer of helping to get us a good deal on a carpet.

Truly, it was a fascinating day in so many ways.

Posted by KZFamily 11:48 Archived in Turkey Tagged cappadocia turkey underground_city fairy_chimneys Comments (1)

The Ihlara Canyon

By Hannah

sunny 20 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

Ihlara Valley

Ihlara Valley

Today we left city life behind and went for a trek through the Ihlara Canyon. Since Dad's back wasn't exactly in peak condition, Abby, Mom, and I started off without him. We'd planned for him to pick us up at the other side of the canyon. It was a warm, windy day, and we were thrilled with the good timing of the weather. Apparently it's going to drop from 20 °C to 0 °C tomorrow, as well as rain. Lucky timing on our part.

There are a number of old caves that were used for churches and dwellings carved into the sides of the canyon. Our first stop was at one of these churches, which was covered in fading frescoes. Unfortunately there was quite a bit of graffiti, but it was still beautiful, and full of twists and turns and hidey holes. We went further into the cave, climbing up steep, dusty steps in order to reach the second storey. One of the rooms was pitch black, and as I ventured further into it, I stepped into one of the many sunken areas of the caves, and dropped a couple feet into the darkness. It gave Abby and Mom a scare, and certainly got my blood pumping. I was warier of the other shadowy, cavernous unknowns I encountered after that.

We continued along the trail, and soon came across a tea and snack shop, with several tables and chairs constructed from stumps spread across the path. The owner definitely has the best location he could hope for. We were urged to sit down and buy a tea, but we refused, astounded that anyone could drink hot tea in this weather. He persisted, however, and presented us with two refrigerators filled with juice and Fanta. So we ended up purchasing a couple of the overpriced drinks and settling down on the stumps. Turns out the fridges were just for show, as the drinks were as warm as the water in our backpacks. We were also instantly visited by swarms of pesky flies, so we quickly moved on.

Ihlara Valley

Ihlara Valley

The walk was fairly flat and smooth, and the scenery was gorgeous. The only downside was the buzzing, biting flies that would attack whenever the wind died down. Marvelling at the towering cliffs about us, we nearly missed the steadily approaching orange dot on the trail. Then Abby yelled "Daddy!" and barrelled towards it. Dad had decided to take a shot at the trek, as it had been one of his highlights when he planned the Turkey leg (haha) of our trip. Though he was bent like a nail hit by an amateur carpenter, he wasn't in half the pain he was yesterday. We were happy he'd gotten to have at least part of the canyon experience.

We stopped at another church that was quite similar to the first, though more open and decorated with frescoes that seemed to have done better at surviving the elements. There were more cliff-side dwellings nearby as well, but they were a little out of reach for the casual hiker.

We passed the parking lot and ticket booth, and started on the next portion of our walk. We parted ways with Dad once more, who decided he'd do the same thing as before and drove to the other end of the trail. The three of us continued alongside the stream running through the centre of the canyon, taking it all in. Eventually, our level riverside path gave way to rockier terrain. We climbed higher and higher up and along the boulder strewn side of the cliff, and ended up coming across a flock of sheep being lead up and over the rocks by a pair of shepherds. A couple of the braver animals kept to the path until forced to skirt around us, but most scampered off the trail as soon as they saw us coming. We in turn had to avoid the numerous droppings covering the path for the next few hundred metres.

At the seven kilometre mark, we spotted a sign that pointed upwards towards another cliff-side mosque. It took some scrambling off the beaten path to reach, but it provided a nice if mainly beige view of the canyon. We opened up our packs and made a lunch of the fruit, nuts and seeds we'd brought along. Relaxing in the cool of the cave, Mom told us that she was perfectly content. Abby was quick to point out that this meant Mom was happier without Dad there, which may have tainted the sentiment a bit. But it really was a great moment. I think that even Dad agrees that it's good for the three of us to have some time without his male influence.

Selime Cathedral (stone church)

Selime Cathedral (stone church)

Getting back down to the trail was a bit more difficult that climbing up, but we managed alright. We continued walking, and soon spotted the orange dot again. Reunited, we completed our tour of the Ihlara Canyon. At this end of the canyon rests the Selime Cathedral, a labyrinth of stairs and caves and fairy chimneys. Here's a video that will give you a much better idea of what it was like than I can. Let's just say it's nothing like Notre Dame. We entertained ourselves exploring the cathedral for the better part of an hour, and left just as a horde of tourists ascended. I'm going to miss the off season.

We returned to our hotel tired and slightly sunburnt. Mom and Dad went to see the Kizil Kilise, or Red Church, which they summed up as nice but nothing special. They also tried and failed to find Monastery Valley. We'll give it another shot tomorrow. We had dinner at the hotel again, and were served much more than we could ever eat, all of it tasty. Through our meals here we've learned that Turkish food isn't all döner and durum and pide, though you can always expect three or four kinds of starch on your plate.

Tomorrow is a travel day, and we'll be off to Göreme, a town about an hour and a half from Güzelyurt. Wow, two umlauts in a row.

Posted by KZFamily 10:34 Archived in Turkey Tagged canyon turkey cathedral guzelyurt ihlara selime Comments (2)

Exploring the Caravanserai

BY ABBY

sunny 22 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

Today was a travel day, and we drove from Konya to Guzelyurt in Cappadocia. The drive took quite a long time, considering that we only had to drive 185 km. The trip was pretty uneventful, as we travelled on the same straight road for 113 kilometers of it. But we had planned for some sightseeing so that we had something to keep us sane during the long hours of driving. We stopped at a Caravanserais (in Sultanhami) along the way, and unfortunately, three tour buses stopped there as well. But we managed to avoid most of the people and enjoyed looking around the places that camels would have stayed almost a thousand years ago. The walls around the caravanserais were guarded by three sleepy dogs, which didn't bat an eye as the hoards of people walked through to their domain. There was a covered area that was used for the winter, which was quite large and reminded us of the building of a church. There were many high pillars that came together in arches, and plenty of ground space for where the animals would have stayed. It was empty other than a few dull lights, some old machinery and some loud (and annoying) birds. There was also an uncovered courtyard-like area that they would have stored the camels in during the summer. It was surrounded by high walls and there was a kiosk-mosque in the centre of the area. There were also steps leading up the top of the walls surrounding the area, but these were "forbidden to go up". However, we were able to go up the stairs of the kiosk-mosque, which was interesting. Hannah, my mom and I went up, as my dad watched us from the ground below. Hannah and my mom explored the highest level as well.

Kiosk mosque (on the left) in the caravanserai

Kiosk mosque (on the left) in the caravanserai

We left happy, and after checking out a few stalls and shops, were back on the road again. We stopped at a small green space with some picnic tables to enjoy our lunch of wraps, veggies, fruit and nuts. As you see we are very healthy people, and of course we didn't have any Nutella with that.

Winter dwellings of the caravanserai

Winter dwellings of the caravanserai

Our new place is unlike anywhere we have stayed before. It is a "cave hotel", but not a very authentic one (a more genuine one is coming soon) as it is made out of stone bricks rather than a natural cave. It is very old and historic and looks more like a castle room. But we are happy all the same, and for the nights we are here we will be basically the only ones staying. However, the day we leave they are expecting 70 people to come, so we now understand their need for 65 rooms. The four of us occupy two rooms, in a small house, but because we are the only ones here, the common area is more of a rarely used living room. The hotel has its own restaurant, one of only two in the whole town, and is where we had our evening meal.

But before we had our dinner, the ones of us who were able (have a guess at who couldn't come) set out for a short walk to explore. We didn't see very much but we were able to stop at a tourist office to get some information. We were offered tea there, and now that I think about it, we were foolish not to take up the offer.

Guzelyurt Accommodations

Guzelyurt Accommodations

Dinner was large and very tasty. We had a starter of some mushroom soup and bread, a salad, and our main course was a chicken dish served with rice and a side of fries. We are a little worried about how much it costs, as we are pretty sure a meal like that would not be included in a room rate, but we'll just have to wait and see. I'm pretty excited to see what we'll be having for breakfast tomorrow.

We ended the evening with some games of backgammon, some West Wing, and a couple fruit platters delivered right to our rooms by one of the friendly employees. All in all, it was a pretty good day.

Posted by KZFamily 01:05 Archived in Turkey Tagged turkey guzelyurt Comments (1)

Ruminating on Rumi

BY MURIEL

sunny 18 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

We awoke, but not totally afresh as the walls are paper thin and there were people afoot last night in the hotel. It seems there are only businessmen staying here, if the attendance at breakfast was any indication. The girls and I were the only females in sight, either amongst the staff or the clientele. Turkish hotels and pensions often provide breakfast and even though it wasn’t officially included in our room rate, I felt for the price we were paying, I would swallow my pride and ask if we could have it included. The manager agreed, or at least I think he did – we’ll find out when it comes time to pay the bill upon checkout. We never know what we’ll get with a meal in Turkey, even if we order something we think we’re familiar with. While Abby was hoping for pancakes, I assured her it would be ‘anything but’ and would likely include a number of olives. It turned out to be a buffet, with several types of olives, some cheeses, buns, halva, boiled eggs, pink sausage, cucumbers, tomatoes, rolled Taquito-type things, jams and tahini paste. And the darkest tea you’ve ever seen – Ben thought it was coffee before he tried it. When I went back to help Abby select some more halva (a crumbly nut butter sweetened with sugar), I noticed something off to the side, warming in a dish: it turned out to be yayla corbası, a warm soup made of yoghurt, eggs and rice, seasoned with mint and paprika. I felt I had to try it. The 100 ml I took back sufficed to feed the entire family – again, like the cold yoghurt drink called ‘aryan’ that the Turkish love, it seems to be an acquired taste. Upon filling our plates and sitting down, we noticed we had already made a gaffe. You are to use a communal basket to hold your buns rather than placing them directly on your plate. And, taking community one step further, we saw four businessmen sharing a single heaping plate of all the foodstuffs rather than each having their own. In that way, it’s a more intimate culture.

Melvana Museum: Green Spire Marks Rumi's Resting Place

Melvana Museum: Green Spire Marks Rumi's Resting Place

But enough about food (our go-to subject)...we piled out the door determined to learn something about Konya and its famous citizen, Rumi, a thirteenth century Persian poet, jurist and Sufi mystic. While he is ‘big’ in Iran, Turkey and neighbouring areas, his importance transcends national and ethnic borders (according to Wikipedia). His poems have been translated into many languages and he was even described as ‘the most popular poet in America’ a few years ago. He died in Konya and was buried there. His shrine has become a place of pilgrimage, even to this day. Following his death, his followers founded the Mevlevi Order, also known as the Order of the Whirling Dervishes; they are most famous for their dance known as the Sema ceremony, where they twirl themselves into a trance during worship. The building where he’s buried is now known as the Mevlana Museum and encompasses several tombs, a mosque, a dance hall, and former dervish living quarters and school. When we arrived at the museum, we quickly determined we would learn nothing without the audio guides so rented two (tripling the entrance price). We could then understand some details of Rumi’s life and the dervishes’ existence. When we heard he is known for five poetic works, Hannah voiced the opinion that that did not appear to be very many for such an important guy. We then learned that one of his great works, the Masnavi, has 26,000 couplets alone and took him ten years to compose. Some others are even longer! OK, so it seems he was more prolific than we first thought. One of the quotes we saw on tourist literature attributed to him was “Either seem as you are or be as you seem” which seems to be a bit more cryptic version of “Walk the walk and talk the talk.”

Rumi is actually ensconced under the Green Tomb, a large green pencil-shaped appendage shooting out of the roof. We needed to cover our shoes and don head scarves (not Ben) before entering. When inside, we could see several pilgrims praying among the Turkish and foreign tourists. It truly seemed to be an important site for them. It was interesting to see samples of the Koran with beautiful calligraphy and gilded work, reminding us of the Bibles monks had illustrated several centuries ago. Mosques are generally large, open spaces and the building housing the tombs of Rumi and various other Mevlevi leaders appears similar. They were all together, next to each other, with Rumi given more distinction and room than the others. The walls and ceilings had painted designs in many colours and there were various items from the dervishes’ life displayed. However, it was all simpler and plainer than we expected. Other buildings showed how the dervishes occupied small quarters, known as cells, where they studied and meditated. While we would have liked to observe a dervish ceremony, they are only held on Saturdays in Konya; we may have more success in Cappadocia, our next stay.

Konya Turkish Independence Museum

Konya Turkish Independence Museum

The afternoon held two museums for us, one we stumbled upon when we went closer to see an intriguing building. It housed a large diorama of miniatures depicting life in Konya between 1914 and 1930, a time which included WW I and the Turkish war of independence. It didn’t seem to get many visitors and we only became aware of it when the guide invited us to come to the ‘free museum.’ It was indeed free (you never know) and worthwhile. The second, the Karatay Medresesi, was promoted to me by the tourism centre as a place to learn about the history of tiles in Konya. Well, who could resist that? Truth be told, while we initially liked the large partially tiled dome inside, we were a bit underwhelmed by the few items on display. Abby said afterwards, with tongue firmly planted in cheek, “I’m sure glad we didn’t miss THAT, Mom, good call!’ The afternoon was finished up with the three of us girls going window shopping – the many sweets are hard to resist, especially when the vendors give you samples to try. I succumbed to these tubular wafer cookies ingested with a creamy coconut filling – they surpass Turkish delight in my books.

Konya Street Scene

Konya Street Scene

We walked back to the hotel, noticing abandoned chai glasses on store fronts or on the steps in the main square – these are later picked up by the tea shops who service these areas with mobile tea ‘waiters.’ During our walk, I was struck by the many juxtapositions I saw between the modern and traditional cultures in Konya: old men holding prayer beads in one hand and a cell phone in the other; window displays showing full, ankle length skirts alongside faded skinny jeans; pairs of young men wearing Nikes and walking arm in arm; traditional wedding dresses displayed beside the white ones popular in North America. Beyond the museums and mosques, that is where the real interest lies, in observing the people of Turkey. In this country, it is very common to see groups of men gathering together. The spectrum traverses from boyhood till past retirement age. Thus it is that we see men sharing meals, playing backgammon, and holding conversations over chai. There are women too, but their groups seem not as plentiful. I do not want to give the wrong impression as we see families out as well; it just seems to be more of a man’s dominion. I’ve told Ben he should just join in but he feels an affinity for us (and for the English language, I expect).

Posted by KZFamily 12:44 Archived in Turkey Tagged turkey rumi konya Comments (1)

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